Trades, the expanded Wild Card and parity

Last week’s quick-hit trade deadline moves were surprising in a lot of ways. A week after the fact, I’d like to outline some of the differences between our expectations and the actual moves.

The Wild Card and parity

We’ve been hearing a lot about the expanded Wild Card in the last few years. It’s part of Bud Selig’s vision for the league where everyone’s in the chase, supposedly creating more excitement and better attendance.

Another bigger aspect of his plan that’s supposed to fall in right alongside that is parity. As a true salary cap (or perhaps, true-er cap) is in place with giant luxury tax implications, teams are encouraged to be in the same range of spending as others. Revenue sharing creates even more of a redistributive feel.

As far as these things contribute to an equaling of the playing field like that of the NFL, Selig has done the job. The Yankees’ empire appears to be crumbling, a topic Joe tackled in this morning’s post, and teams like the Marlins and Royals are no longer the worst in their divisions. (The Royals are five games above .500, while the Marlins are six games out in the Wild Card race.)

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All-in Athletics

If there were ever a time for the usually frugal Oakland Athletics to give their best push for a championship, that time would be now. And that seems to be exactly what the club is doing.

The utilization of Jon Lester

The biggest news is, of course, the huge deal with the Red Sox. Boston ace Jon Lester was sent from the one coast to another along with Jonny Gomes for the two-time Home Run Derby champion Yoenis Cespedes.

Lester has had career numbers, and while the A’s may not have him longer than this year, both Lester and his new team stand to benefit from the continuation of that success. Both look to attain a World Series title (which would be Lester’s second consecutive), and for Lester, his output also has bearing on what he makes in free agency next year and beyond.

No doubt Oakland will make him a qualifying offer for the compensatory pick, not expecting to meet his asking price. Thus the trade actually for the southpaw includes a sort of future clause — Gomes and half a season of Lester, plus another pick to bolster the club in years to come.

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2014 trade deadline notes

This year’s trade deadline was surprisingly busy, all things considered. There’s a lot to cover, but let’s start with the basics:

All the big moves were about starting pitching. And it’s not surprising, given the recent impact of pitching on the outcomes of games. But the biggest three moves of the day were centered around starters with the potential to impact getting into — or getting through — the playoffs.

Boston makes big trades

The A’s and Red Sox started things off by swapping Lester and Gomes for Yoenis Cespedes. Read more about that here.

Then the Sox dealt another starter, John Lackey, to the Cardinals. This deal was a morning blockbuster that got lost in the madness of the big deals that preceded and followed it. Lackey bolsters the front end of the Cardinals’ rotation with Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn.

While Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly have been disappointing, a late return by Michael Wacha in September could give St. Louis the push into the playoffs if they’re able to stay in the thick of things. (Kelly was part of the package sent to Boston.) The Brewers have hung onto the Central lead so far and the Pirates have been particularly pesky for the Cards, so the move seemed a needed one.

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The pendulum-like nature of the Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox have been a pendulum of late. Twice now in years following a World Series victory, Boston has followed with a less-than-stellar season.

Not that Boston fans are complaining (or at least, they shouldn’t be). After all, it was 86 years between World Series victories before 2004, followed by only a three year gap with a title in 2007. Then Boston won again in 2013, immediately following a year in the cellar of the AL East.

Though the 2007 title-winning team included players who were still in or just past their primes, it also incorporated young talent who would be the backbone of the 2013 run. It would seem the Red Sox are able to rebuild, or at least retool, fairly quickly. They are not, however, the first team to see such sporadic success.

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The sensibility of the Pierzynski signing

A.J. Pierzynski has seen his share of the league, playing for six clubs across a 17-year career. While he only stayed in two cities for longer than a year, he’s also had a measure of success behind the plate. For that reason, among others, his recent change of scenery should reap benefits.

Shipping out of Boston

When Boston released the catcher on July 16, it was fairly clear the 37 year-old would get a shot to help out another team down the stretch. Some in the media have attributed his release in part to clubhouse issues, though that may not be the whole story.

It remains the Red Sox aren’t going anywhere this year, and they decided to part ways with Pierzynski. The man who takes his place, Christian Vazquez, is 23. It seems to make sense for the Sox to figure out what he can do in an everyday role while David Ross, also 37, spells him as the veteran backup. Pierzynski didn’t fit into the Red Sox’ plans, so they let him go, which turned out to be a good move for everyone involved.

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